Using pupil voice to refine the focus of CPD
'Seek first to understand, then to be understood.'
− Stephen Covey
In any endeavour designed to support the professional learning of teachers and others in schools, we have to remember the bottom line − our ultimate purpose is to improve pupils' education and make a difference to educational outcomes. This link to what pupils achieve is so important, that it makes the views and opinions of the young people in your school a valid part of the development process, which should be fed into CPD planning.
One effective way of ensuing that pupils' views are taken into consideration is through a commitment to listening to pupil voice. This means listening to what pupils have to say about their experiences of their teachers and their time in school. According to Liz Francis, Teachers Programme Director at the Training and Development Agency for Schools, pupil voice can take various forms:
Discussions: These might be periodic ad hoc discussions between pupils and a teacher in the course of day-to-day lessons (perhaps about the lessons, the subject matter, homework and so on). They might also be more formal discussions between pupils and teachers about issues such as school procedures, new curriculum initiatives or evidence for the School Self-Evaluation Form.
Surveys: Typically such surveys would be in the form of questionnaires, for example a survey on creativity in teaching might include questions such as:
- What do you enjoy most about your lessons and why?
- What would you like more of?
- Which types of lessons do you think are creative
- Which lessons do you think could benefit from more creativity?
Forums: These might be consultative committees such as a school council.
Your school may also consider using a simple suggestions box for pupils to express thoughts and ideas.
As usual, gathering the information is just the beginning. You might want to use pupil voice to find out:
- what CPD is needed (from their perspective)
- after CPD has taken place, whether it has been effective − in particular, what pupils perceive to be the impact of the CPD.
There are some great examples of the use of pupil voice in schools. At the George Mitchell School in East London, about 40 volunteer students comprise the Making Learning Better group. They observe lessons and provide evaluative comments to the teachers and to the CPD Leader. This information is used in particular to design staff development events. Divided into teams that work with subject departments, the students regularly observe lessons throughout the year so that each teacher is observed several times during the course of a year. These students attend departmental meetings and contribute to staff development events. It's an innovative approach which can be adapted to work in most settings.
However, for the purposes of improving CPD in your school there are a few issues to be aware of regarding pupil voice:
- Pupils will need the right conditions to feel they can speak candidly about the school and the staff.
- Pupils may need to be helped to see how they can make critical comments in a positive manner.
- It is important to demonstrate to pupils that their comments receive appropriate consideration and are acted on.
Used wisely, pupil voice has the potential to be quietly transformative − a gift we would be foolish to overlook.
Issues and Information
A qualitative study of school level strategies for teachers' CPD has recently been published. Written by Philippa Cordingley of the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE), the report is organised into four sections:
- a brief summary of key features of the research literature
- the results of the fieldwork undertaken for the study
- the key findings in the context of the study and the evidence base
- possible future areas for research.
According to the study, the evidence in the case studies and the literature review pointed to what CUREE called a 'work in progress' definition of a strategic approach to CPD in schools. The approach has the following key features:
- Put pupil learning at the heart of all professional learning
- Provide opportunities for staff to collaborate and to be proactive about their own learning
- Ensure that all staff are aware of and share the school's approach to professional learning
- Align school, departmental and individual staff priorities and set them in the context of national and local priorities and resources
- Locate the leadership of CPD at senior management level
- Use a mix of specialist expertise and collaborative coaching
- Use a mix of whole school, departmental and individual pupil data to inform CPD decision making